Thursday, November 19, 2015

A Grand Tour via Soup: French Potage Crécy with a sesame crusty roll

The Grand Soup Tour moves to France and whilst I was tempted to make the classical French Onion Soup I have instead elected for one of the first 'French' soups I was taught to make during a year of cookery training back in the mid 1970's, a Potage Crécy.

According to my 1961 edition of the Larousse Gastronmique, al la Crécy, is the culinary term given to various preparations, and notably a soup, where all include an obligatory garnish of carrots. Larousse notes there is a difference of opinion on whether the soup is named after the town Crécy in the Seine-et-Marne or after a small town in Somme, near to where the battle of Crécy took place. The soup recipe I am familiar with is thickened with rice and that is supported by the reference in Le Repertoire de la Cuisine, 17th Ed where under Soups, Crecy=Carrot puree with rice, butter and cream. I have seen many other recipes that use potato or other starches to thicken the soup but I stick with rice.

From from my earliest very impressionable days of learning to cook I rapidly became an incredible food snob but I hope I have retained some sense of 'keep it simple' regarding how food is described. Classical French cooking has always seemed very complicated, almost another language. There was a time when rather too many UK restaurants and cookbooks gave all their dishes french names regardless of their culinary origins. Pub chips never were pommes frites, and a typical school dinner style egg and bacon pie was never a Quiche Lorraine; food trends, what is new, but I digress. The point I want to make is that if I had been served this soup in an English restaurant as' Potage Crécy' in the 1970's I might well have grumbled that it was just carrot soup, but it is none the less French, and when finished with a little cream, a garnish of chervil and some good french bread you understand how nuanced and superior a lot of french cooking was (and is?) to its English counterpart.

This very simple soup relies on the quality of flavour in the carrots, but is perfect for times when you want a soup with minimal preparation. I have lost my original recipe and more often than not guess amounts when I make this soup, but this should be a good guide for you:

Potage Crécy
20g butter
500g peeled and chopped carrots
500ml water or vegetable stock / or use a good bouillion powder
20g uncooked long grain rice

salt & pepper

2-3 tbs cream single, whipping or double, or can be omitted altogether
few fronds of chervil cleaned (parsley or chives as alternatives)

  1. In a medium size pan melt the butter and then gently sweat the chopped carrots without browning them for a few minutes until just starting to soften a little.
  2. Add the water or stock, rice and a small amount  salt and pepper, if using stock powder you may not need additional salt at all.
  3. Cover the pan and bring to a gentle simmer, then cook at a simmer until the carrots are quite tender, which can take at least 30 minutes.
  4. Allow the soup to cool for a few minutes and then using a stick blender puree the soup.
  5. Stir in the cream, if you are using it, adding just enough to enrichen the soup without losing the freshness of the carrots. Taste as you add. Dilute with a little water if the soup is too thick.
  6. Add any further salt and pepper to season to your taste and bring the soup back up to simmer point again.
  7. Pour into bowls and garnish with leaves of chervil.
Chervil, is a lovely herb that is quite easy to grow. It is a component of the French fresh herb combination 'fines herbes', fresh parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil. The mild slightly aniseed flavour of chervil teams well with fish, chicken, eggs and mild vegetables such as carrots, potatoes, courgettes.

The rolls I served with my soup were based on a recipe from a book by French baker Richard Bertinet. I have to admit my rolls did not shape up so chic as the ones in the book. I think I have managed to anglicize them as they should have been skinny and pointy not short and round. Never mind they had a lovely crisp crust and tender centre so correct in some ways.
They were made with a mixture of a light spelt flour and strong white bread flour, so almost like a white bread roll but with a little more flavour from the spelt. He uses 350g of water to 500g of flour so you have quite a soft dough. Here are the stages for shaping the rolls:
After dividing the dough into equal portions and rolling into a rough ball you flatten the ball out to a disc. Two sides are then turned in to the middle. The piece of dough is then flipped over so the fold over sides and underneath. this is then cut into three almost to the top of the strip of dough. The strands are then plaited and pinched to a close. You then stretch out the plait by rolling each pointed end in your hands like you would a rolling pin. The spray the top of the roll with water and dip the wet side into a saucer of sesame seeds.
Place onto lined trays and leave to almost double in size

Ovens can be tricky, I baked the first tray with my oven on the 'Bread Bake' setting and they came out  with quite a dull crust.
The next tray I set the oven to 'Fan Intensive ' and they took on a much better and livelier looking colour.

I made a second batch of soup with a little more cream added and some milk, as a few recipes suggest this. I prefer the version without milk and just a little cream, it tastes fresher. I pulled some walnut and bacon rolls out of the freezer for this meal and they went really well. These rolls are from another french baker, Eric Kayser's book le Larousse du Pain. This is available in the original french version or as an English translation. More errors seem to slip into translated books so I stick to the original if at all feasible. 

My next link is from France to Morocco. The French like so many european nations were wide reaching colonizers. Morocco had been under French control for over forty years when it achieved independence in 1956. French post offices were established in Morocco with the use of French stamps simply overprinted with 'Protectorate Francais' and a local value. The french language is not an official  language now, but is widely taught and used in commerce, education, sciences and government. I shall be cooking up a very seasonal winter squash soup flavoured with spices and harissa, as well as some unusual flatbreads called Meloui

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